Batman the Dark Knight Rises
"The Dark Knight Rises" has rekindled old debates over the effects of violent movies on young children. Warner Bros.

Following an attack last week that left 12 people dead and 58 wounded at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., debates are heating up on both sides of the Atlantic over ways to keep young children from seeing violent movies.

The Hollywood Reporter on Monday reported about a proposed law in Germany that would prohibit anyone under 12 from seeing movies rated 12+, Germany's equivalent to the PG-13 rating doled out by the Motion Picture Association of America. Under the law, a second category of adult-accompanied films would be created where parents could take their young children. Although the legislation was proposed before last week's devastating attack at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, that event is likely to fan the flames for German officials who have been seeking stricter ratings guidelines for violent films. The Dark Knight Rises, which opens in Germany on July 26, is rated 12+ there for violence.

As conventional wisdom goes, European ratings boards are more tolerant of sexual content than violent content, while the reverse is true in the United States. But last week's Batman massacre, allegedly carried out by a 24-year-old aspiring scientist who dyed his hair orange and called himself The Joker, has rekindled old arguments over the effects of violent movies on children. The shooter's youngest victim was a 6-year-old girl, who many would say was too young to be watching the film at all.

The Federal Trade Commission has long concerned itself with this very issue. Since 2000, the agency has reviewed and reported on the movie, music and video game industries' marketing practices in relation to violent entertainment. In 2009, the commission renewed its call on the entertainment industry to curb the marketing of violent entertainment to children. Studying various marketing plans, including film trailers and promotional tie-ins with food and toys, the FTC determined that movie studios were intentionally marketing PG-13 movies to children under 13.

Mary Engle, the FTC's director of advertising practices, told the International Business Times that the agency is not looking to restrict filmmakers' freedom of expression. Rather, she said efforts to rein in the marketing of violent movies to children can and should come from within the industry itself. Given the First Amendment protections in this area, she said, the FTC has supported self-regulatory efforts by the motion picture industry to voluntarily refrain from marketing violent PG-13 movies to children under 13, and violent R-rated movies to children under 17.

The MPAA, which determines ratings for the vast majority of mainstream films, did not return a request for comment. On its website, however, the organization outlines the criteria it uses to help raters make a PG-13 determination -- including such factors as violence, nudity, sensuality, language and adult activities. The MPAA says PG-13 ratings are given when the level of offending content does not reach the restricted R category.

And yet even if a movie receives a PG-13 rating -- as many big-screen comic-book treatments do these days -- young children may still attend a screening without adult supervision. The rating, as determined by the MPAA, is merely a recommendation that some material may be inappropriate for young viewers. That may soon change in Germany, as officials seek to restrict young children's access to all movies rated 12+, with or without adult supervision. Of courses, similar restrictions are not likely to make their way to the United States anytime soon, which means the Parental Guidance element to the PG-13 rating will continue to mean what it always did: Concerned parents should pay attention to what their kids are watching.